OPINION: A helping hand for new parents in these difficult times

What advice would you give the new royal mother?

Having a baby in the last 18 months will have been very different to due to the limits of lockdown - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, local campaigns manager for the NSPCC, says these can be worrying times for new parents

Bringing a new born baby into the world is always going to be an exciting but difficult transition for any new parents, and at the NSPCC we believe that expectant and new parents need all the help they can get.

Our Fight For A Fair Start campaign recognises the crucial role of health visitors and it is calling for urgent systemic change in prioritising investment in these services to benefit new parents’ mental health.

The campaign has been running for a number of years and started as a response to an increasing decline in UK-wide health visits.

Before the pandemic hit, in some places, new parents got the help they needed but in others a lack of services, funding, training or staff meant that many new parents were left in the dark to cope alone, increasing the potential of escalating mental health problems.

During the pandemic, the term ‘lockdown baby’ became a popular saying as expectant mothers and fathers welcomed their little ones into this new and strange world.

Fight for a Fair Start is needed more than ever for the parents of these babies, as they face heightened stress, social isolation and mental health problems. That is why action is urgently needed to mitigate against the long-lasting impact on the future health, wellbeing and life changes of babies born during this strange time.

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Between April 2020 – January 2021 our helpline received 3,608 child welfare contacts about parental mental health with the monthly average rising by 44% compared to the previous year showing that the pandemic has added much more pressure and at this difficult time, it’s crucial no parent or baby is left behind and the services they need are there to support them – wherever they live.

During the pandemic and the restrictions in place fathers and partners have been excluded from scans and many women have had no choice but to give birth without a partner or supporter present.

Parents and babies have also suffered from limited access to wider family networks, which traditionally has often helped many new parents.

We also know that in the past year up to 50% of health visitors were redeployed away from supporting families in some areas during the first lockdown and all of this has had an unprecedented impact on pregnancy, birth and the start of a child’s life.

Recently at the NSPCC’s flagship How Safe conference, held online this year, we brought together a panel of guest speakers to highlight the importance of the Fight for a Fair Start campaign and examine, for the first time, the issues around mental health in pregnancy and the child’s first year.

With the heightened stress and isolation brought on from lockdowns, we know new parents are suffering and the pandemic has adversely affected the early identification of mental health issues during pregnancy.

The panel discussed what it means to navigate one of life’s biggest challenges in the middle of a national health crisis and the vital importance of health visitors, as well as concerns about the long-lasting effect on babies and parents and what essential support is needed for both mums and dads moving forward.

It is vital the Government puts together a real response so that no child is left behind because of the pandemic. Resources must be put in place to address the restricted access to services which has resulted in escalating mental health problems in parents.

The charity has long warned that without the right support at the right time, mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for women, their children and other family members and if we act now we can and will change the outcome.

Please show support for our campaign and sign this petition: nspcc.org.uk/fair-start

Adults concerned about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000